November 25, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner (33) heads toward the end zone as Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker Mason Foster (59) cant make the tackle during the second half of the game at Raymond James Stadium. Atlanta defeated the Bucs 24 to 23. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-US PRESSWIRE
When I watch the Falcons, I’m not just looking for positive plays from the offense and defense, but I’m also looking for how well they are are able to succeed in different phases of the game. The Falcons had been very poor against the run, but really turned things around against Tampa Bay by really stopping Doug Martin from doing a whole bunch. They were successful in the run on that side of the ball, but they showed next to nothing in a specific part of the run game yet again.
Early in the game, we saw some really good runs from the Falcons, so it’s not like they couldn’t run the ball whatsoever. But the majority of those runs came outside of the tackles, with receivers put in motion to trap defensive players, and clever use of angles by the Falcons to outflank the Buccaneer defense for solid gains. I don’t want to say that those were smoke and mirror plays, because they certainly weren’t but they were far from smashmouth, running-between-the-tackles offensive plays. And that’s a big problem.
Michael Turner is the only back the Falcons have that they try to run up the middle, and everytime he tries to run between the tackles, there’s nowhere to run. He doesn’t have a single solitary alley to run through. Turner clearly isn’t the back he was from 2008-2010, but few backs could find positive yardage with the interior run blocking that the Falcons have been giving to him.
The best example I have was a play that was designed to be run behind the left guard. I’m not exactly sure where the ball was supposed to be run, because I’m not the offensive coordinator. But blocks were missed or not maintained, and Turner hit the backs of his linemen. Luckily, he didn’t fall down, and was able to find a small space to run to for a gain of maybe one yard. Not a great gain, and it was one of the best up-the-middle run plays for the Falcons all day long. That’s pretty embarrassing.
I understand that it’s important to attempt runs up the middle to simply provide the threat of some sort of interior run game. It forces people to play in the box and between the tackles, which allows the passing attack (especially the more spread out passing attacks) to be effective. And you have to have some threat of that interior run to set up the pass and the outside run.
However, doesn’t it make sense that the Falcons ought to simply throw the ball and run to the outside? Wouldn’t it be nice to not run for no gain on first down and always have 2nd & 10 situations come up? I think it’s worth a shot. There is a reason Matt Ryan is given the freedom to audible at the line of scrimmage. It’s so that if he finds a play that absolutely will hit the weakness of the defense, he can switch to it. So Dirk Koetter, if you’re listening out there, call pass plays and outside runs predominantly, and let Matt Ryan decide when the best time is to run Turner between the tackles. That’s certainly the best way to remedy the between the tackles running challenges the Falcons have faced.